Los Angeles prosecutors have filed charges against social workers for allegedly failing to intercede in the case of an 8-year-old boy who was abused in his home and died in 2012.
The prosecutors are charging four social workers with child abuse and falsifying public records, saying that they under-reacted to "the significance of the physical, mental and emotional injuries that Gabriel suffered... [and] allowed a vulnerable boy to remain at home and continue to be abused."
"Social workers play a vital role in society. We entrust them to protect our children from harm," District Attorney Jackie Lacey said Thursday in announcing the charges. "When their negligence is so great as to become criminal, young lives are put at risk. We believe these social workers were criminally negligent and performed their legal duties with willful disregard for Gabriel's well-being."
The social workers charged are Stefanie Rodriguez, Patricia Clement, Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt.
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Gabriel Fernandez had a nightmarish, painful short life, according to authorities. Just 8 years old, he even had written a suicide note that authorities allege the social workers knew about.
Fernandez’s alleged tormenters were none other than his own mother and her boyfriend, who are to stand on trial on charged of capital murder and torture. His mom, Pearl Fernandez, 31, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 35, have pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the two allegedly shot pepper spray at the boy, forced him to eat his vomit, locked him in a closet with a sock stuffed in his mouth and beat him to death, apparently with a wooden club that police later found covered in his blood.
Among the prosecutor’s findings was that the social workers had visited the home, checking on allegations of abuse, but did not take steps to remove the boy. At one point, they were aware that Gabriel had a BB pellet stuck in his chest, and that he had written a suicide note, but did nothing about it, including trying to get him medical or mental health treatment.
Before he died, they had closed his case.
If convicted of child abuse and falsifying records, the social workers could face as much as 10 years in prison.
"By minimizing the significance of the physical, mental and emotional injuries that Gabriel suffered, these social workers allowed a vulnerable boy to remain at home and continue to be abused," Lacey said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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